Friday, March 23, 2012

John Noel, another Exeter Writer

I want everyone to meet John Noel, another member of the Visalia-Exeter Writers and contributor to Leaves from the Valley Oak.

Welcome, John and thanks for joining me on my blog. Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in York, Pennsylvania, a small industrial city with a claim to being the first capital of the United States. I grew up playing in Penn Common, which had been given to the city by the Penn family.  Across the street from our row house Revolutionary War General “Mad Anthony” Wayne had executed mutinous soldiers. Confederate troops had camped on the common when York became the northernmost city captured by the Rebels in the Civil War. Perhaps such surroundings gave me my lifelong love of history.

My family moved to California as I entered high school, and I went on to Fresno State to graduate with a degree in history. I taught in the Exeter area for 39 years. My wife Patsy and I have five children and seven grandchildren. Other than reading and writing, my main vice is playing in rock bands with other old guys.

How long have you been writing, and what was the stimulus that got you started?

I started early. The men of my family were newspaper men of one sort or another, so writing was natural and encouraged. As I got older, my skills saved many a grade as I whipped out a credible paper on a Sunday for Monday delivery.  To supplement my teacher’s salary, I began writing part time for local newspapers.  Needing to fit the information within the limitations of column inches taught me how to whittle away excess verbiage and leave the good stuff.

But my real stimulus was teaching writing in the era of Whole Language. The movement emphasized metacognitive thinking: How do we learn to write? What do writers do? I read a myriad of how-to books on writing, reading, and organizing a writer’s workshop within the classroom. As part of the teaching process I wrote along with my students. They had to see my own trials and tribulations, my own successes and failures as I prepared pieces for classroom publication. We had to establish a community of writers within the classroom, a safe harbor where budding writers could take risks and rely on each other for support. One learns to write by writing. That’s what I did, and that’s what I hope my students took away from their time with me.

The stories and poems in the anthology are really fun to read. Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas have always been hard for me. I worked best in a newspaper-type environment. My editor would tell me what he or she wanted and give me a certain space to fill. These days I mostly write autobiographical vignettes that I hope my grandchildren may get a kick out of some day.

How did your upbringing color your writing?

As I said, my family was in the newspaper business. Even as a child I read two newspapers every day. My early attempts at writing were encouraged both at home and in school.

What books or authors have influenced you in your writing style?

I have always been drawn to nostalgic writers who tell of their youth with warmth and humor. Jean Shepherd (A Christmas Story) would be my go-to example. When I dabble in poetry, my style (but unfortunately not the depth of my talent) leans toward e.e. cummings and Charles Bukowski. I also write poetry for children in the vein of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky.

What’s been your most rewarding experience during the writing process?

I guess my most joyful single moment would have to be when I got the phone call from Children’s Writer that I had won the grand prize in their history article contest. But overall, my most rewarding times were when I was writing with kids. To see young writers making breakthroughs was priceless.

What’s your latest project?

I have two that I am polishing at the moment. Both are slightly embellished but mostly true stories from my youth. The Chronsiter Chronicles is about unrequited puppy love, and The Spelling Bee is the tale of childhood adventures with creative spelling.

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